(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Devil in a Blue Dress introduces readers to Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, the principal character in Mosley’s detective novels. Easy is not a licensed detective; in fact, he is not a detective at all at the outset of the novel. It is 1948, and he is a young black veteran of World War II who has moved to the largely black Watts section of Los Angeles after growing up in a tough Houston neighborhood.

Circumstances conspire to put Easy in the detective business. He has lost his job at an aircraft factory after standing up to his white supervisor. Easy likens the plant to a plantation, but without his job there, he has no way to make the mortgage payments on his small house in Watts.

A solution arises when a bartender and former fighter named Joppy, also from Houston, introduces Easy to a menacing white man named Albright. Albright is searching for a white woman named Daphne Monet, who has been seen in Watts. According to Albright, Daphne’s former lover merely wants to get in touch with her. Despite misgivings, Easy takes on the job of finding Daphne.

Soon a string of murders convinces Easy that he has gotten himself into something more dangerous than he imagined. The police rough him up. Desperate, Easy summons his friend Mouse from Houston to help. Mouse is Easy’s best friend, but he is also the reason Easy left Houston. Mouse is a killer who, on one occasion, made Easy an accessory to murder. Easy leaves a message for Mouse. Not knowing what to expect, he then tries to handle the situation himself.

Daphne has...

(The entire section is 641 words.)


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Devil in a Blue Dress tells the story of Ezekial “Easy” Rawlins’s efforts to find Daphne Monet and also tells the concurrent story of Rawlins’s self-discovery. Set in post-World War II Los Angeles and centering upon the emergent African American community, Devil in a Blue Dress is both conventional detective story and commentary on American social relations. The book’s plot is difficult to describe, as the novelist attempts to portray almost all the story’s events as duplicitous or as having hidden meaning. At the novel’s conclusion, many characters’ motivations, fates, and identities are purposely left unclear.

Having lost his job in an aircraft factory, Rawlins is desperate to take any kind of work that will help him to protect his home. Joppy, Easy’s bartender friend, encourages Dewitt Albright to offer Rawlins work in the search for Monet. Rawlins, like most literary detectives, is naturally suspicious but still takes the work. As the story unfolds, Rawlins discovers that the case is much more than a simple search for a missing person. His entry into the underworld of Los Angeles parallels his struggle to come to terms with his war experiences and the guilt associated with Mouse’s killing of his stepfather.

Although Dewitt Albright has presented the job to Rawlins as strictly a case of obtaining information that might lead to the discovery of Daphne Monet, the very process of asking questions leads to Rawlins’s implication in Coretta James’s death. James was often a companion to Daphne Monet, and her speaking with Rawlins cost her her life. Having provided Albright with the information he needed, Rawlins must still deal with the police. Every time he has the opportunity to clear himself, he is drawn in deeper. The sense that he is in over his head leads to his sending a message to Mouse in Houston asking for his help. Ironically, despite Rawlins’s reservations about his friend’s violent past, it is Mouse’s ability to provide physical defense, to act violently, that Rawlins needs desperately.

Rawlins’s complete involvement is ensured when Daphne Monet contacts him. She tells him that she is desperate for his help in obtaining funds to escape the men who are searching for her. Although he initially contacts her to put an end to the “complications,” it is through this contact that he is connected to the murder of Richard McGee. Monet abandons Easy and causes him to be the...

(The entire section is 1007 words.)